17 Nov Kumoorn
One of the things I like about going on a trip in Norway is an unwritten greeting culture. If you meet someone on the mountain, you greet each other, even if you do not know each other. That’s how it is. Fortunately, this is also somewhat case if you go for a walk elsewhere, but not always.
If, on the other hand, you walk the main street in any city, you definitely do not greet people you do not know. In that case, you are looked at a little strangely. Some people look behind them and wonder if I greeted some people coming behind them, but most just look at you a little incomprehensibly and move on. Some will greet you with uncertainty and wonder where they know you from.
Here in Nuuk, in the capital of Greenland, a small but very urban town, here you greet strangers. Every day when I go to work in the cold darkness, strangers greet me – and I greet back. Every day there are 10-15 people who look me in the eye and greet “Kumoorn” gently.
I’ve been wondering a bit about this. At the same time as I am warmed by the joy of being seen and recognized as a human being every morning, I have wondered why? Why is it that in an international city you greet complete strangers with a smile and “Kumoorn”?
It fascinates me and I have thought about what lies behind such a greeting culture. It is across age and gender, almost a reflex action. I have tested it out a bit… – are the old people who have such a culture from the old days, or is it something that reflects the culture here today? But, everyone greets back if I greet first. Both children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
I had to ask.
– Yes, we greet each other. That’s just the way it is.
What is it that makes us Norwegians almost see it as an act of courtesy to give each other space at all times? We do not look each other straight in the eye, but instead we let our eyes fall a little to the side and signal that we have no intention of invading your private room if we stand together at a bus stop or in an elevator. While here in Nuuk, here you are included in the community.
A good colleague tries to explain. She hesitates, looking for the words:
– I do not know where it comes from, I can not quite put into words why it is so …
But, then she says the word:
I look up in amazement.
– We come from a hunting culture where we knew we were dependent on each other, we need each other. Every child is showered with love. We were so few and so dependent on each other. That is why we see each other and recognize each other as human beings. Inuk = a human being. We are Inuit, we are human, and we see and recognize each other.
So, here in Nuuk, in an international city, I get the pleasure of a living culture, where I am seen and recognized, every morning.
In these corona times, we have learned that it is the little things that are crucial. Washing hands and keeping a distance may seem small – but it is the most important response to the pandemic.
Greeting one’s neighbor, smiling and saying “kumoorn” may seem small, but as an immigrant I feel warmed. As an immigrant from Norway, it is a gift that is given to me – every single day! I am met and seen as a fellow human being. I do not know any of those I meet on my way to work, but they still see me every morning.
Perhaps we in the Nordic countries should embrace a culture so filled with love for people, that we see and recognize each other even in the everyday, seemingly impersonal encounters. It can at least be a suitable place to start if we want to fulfill the vision that the Nordic Council of Ministers has gathered behind, namely to become “the world’s most integrated and sustainable region by 2030”.